'For My Torturer': An African Woman's Transformative Art of Truth, Justice and Peace-Making during Colonialism

By Narismulu, Priya | Journal of International Women's Studies, September 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

'For My Torturer': An African Woman's Transformative Art of Truth, Justice and Peace-Making during Colonialism

Narismulu, Priya, Journal of International Women's Studies


Against a range of injustices African women have made powerful challenges to structural, gender and repressive violence through their interventions in questions of justice, dialogue, creativity and transformation. This article addresses an activist's interventions against colonial oppression by examining gender as the central variable in the relationship between justice and activism in African women's creative literature. The poem 'For my Torturer, Lieutenant D ...' was written in prison by the Algerian activist Leila Djabal who navigated the silences and challenges of gender, age and national identity (postcolonial). It challenges the violence of colonial and patriarchal silencing to expose torture and rape by a prison official." Emerging from an abject position in a colonial jail the poet drew on the representational and allusive properties of poetry to heal and transform the role of victim so as to expose gross human rights abuses and hold colonial officials, the colonial state, and French culture to account. Predicated upon the recognition of very diverse audiences, the visionary poem invokes and explores emerging transitional justice and peace-making processes, decades before their formal appearance. It also demonstrates the value of creative communication strategies under conditions of extreme oppression and division. Using a Critical Theory lens with intersectional analysis, Djabali's text may be read as innovatively connecting individual testimony to the nascent national processes of transitional justice and peace-making. The work of Audre Lorde is used to interpret this bold and resourceful experiment in the generation of justice and transformation through literary art.

Keywords: African women's literature; anti-colonial resistance and transformation; gender and literary activism; transitional justice and peace-making; Critical Theory; intersectional analysis


"... of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.... fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation (Lorde, 1984, p. 42)."

Colonialism was accompanied by diverse structural, coercive and cultural forms of oppression, which has meant that most people in the world, and particularly African women, have experienced many forms of tyranny, including racism, sexism and underdevelopment. Despite all the injustices African women have played vital though largely unrecognized roles in various struggles, often addressing their own oppression and marginalization at the same time. Their refusal to accept oppression is apparent in their powerful responses to the challenges of political and gender transformation. Despite operating in crisis situations, often with very few resources, a number of women acted with powerful sense of their priorities and agendas to create new roles for women, citizens and leaders, and negating stereotypes of being passive, submissive or muted.

Drawing on gender as a central variable in the relationship between activism and creativity in African women's literature, the article examines how Leila Djabali's short poem records experiences of torture and rape, exposes a torturer's criminal practices, and challenges the oppression of the colonial regime. The poem also alerts fellow activists about what to expect in prison, about their options for challenging oppression; and alerts support groups in Algeria, France and other colonized and colonial countries. It also tries to educate torturers, colonial officials and settler colonial women about the real consequences of colonial oppression for themselves, their families, and the lives of their children. Demonstrating a range of engaged and transformative responses the poem also offers some surprising solutions to the stalemate of ongoing conflict.

In these ways the article addresses the centrality of gender to the political transformation of a society experiencing colonial oppression.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

'For My Torturer': An African Woman's Transformative Art of Truth, Justice and Peace-Making during Colonialism


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?